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The Truth about FSC and PEFC Timber Certification

So, CPET have announced that PEFC now meets Government procurement guidelines for legality and sustainability...but does this mean that the timber is equally as sustainable? We think not. Benfield ATT.co.uk asked Nick Cliffe, Director of FSC UK to discuss the differences between the main certification schemes...


In December 2004 the results of the first assessment of timber certification schemes carried out for the governments Central Point of Expertise in Timber (CPET) were announced. Of the five schemes examined only two were found to offer proof of both legality and sustainability those of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and CSA. Full implementation of CPET was then delayed for 6 months to allow certification bodies found not to provide assurance of sustainability the opportunity to address various aspects of their systems. Six months, some structural changes and a re-assessment later, two more systems (PEFC and SFI) were found to have made the grade.

Responses to this announcement have been mixed to say the least. Welcomed by those in the industry that had invested in the newly accepted schemes, decried by environmental and social NGOs as undermining the governments commitment to sourcing timber from legal and sustainable forestry. With most opinions in-between also represented.


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This has brought the question, What are the differences between the systems anyway? back to the foreground. Despite what certain industry commentators would have you believe, relationships between the various systems in the UK are cordial; relationships between the strongest exponents of the various systems are where the fireworks happen. In general the different systems do not comment on each others standards, we leave that to other organisations and there have been a number of detailed and respected reports on the relative merits of the various schemes, carried out by organisations ranging from FERN to WWF and the World Bank. If there is one thing that all these reports, as well as most of the industry, agree on, its that FSC represents the ˜gold" standard of certification.

There are many reasons why the FSC enjoys the credibility that it does, many reasons why a forest manager, processor, manufacturer, trader or specifier should look seriously at what distinguishes the FSC system, what more it can provide beyond the assurance of meeting the CPET criteria.

A truly sustainable system

FSC has a unique structure. It is governed by an international membership open to anyone and divided into three chambers: Environmental, Economic and Social. Each of these chambers is further divided into Northern and Southern hemisphere interests. Voting rights and board representation is equally weighted between these chambers giving a fair and equitable balance between the commercial interests of the timber trade, the environmental concerns of NGOs and the rights of forest dwellers, workers and indigenous peoples. The FSC system was based on Brundtland sustainability. Forestry must be environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable if it is to survive and continue to meet the market demand for timber from well-managed forests.

More than just a paper trail

The FSC system is based on actual performance at ground level, not just on having systems in place on paper. As well as an acceptable and detailed management plan, an FSC-certified forest must undergo rigorous annual inspection visits and if any corrective action requests are issued they must be implemented or the certificate can be withdrawn. Not only does this method provide an unparalleled level of assurance, it has been shown to actively improve forest management.

One system, many standards

The FSC system offers true mutual recognition. The FSC process requires each country, or region if a country is sufficiently diverse, to prepare and submit a National Standard for Forest Management, prepared by a body that uses the same three chamber structure as the membership, ensuring that all stakeholders are consulted. Each standard is then accredited by the FSC Accreditation & Business Unit which ensures it meets the FSC Principles and Criteria for Responsible Forest Management. Once accredited the national standard is used by certification bodies to measure forest performance in that country. In this way each country sets its own standard, taking account of all local factors and interests, but the accreditation process ensures that all these different standards are equivalent and so FSC-certified timber from any country or region can be mutually recognised in the chain of custody with no risk to its credibility. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, FSC timber from certified forestry in Sweden would be equivalent to certified timber from anywhere in the World, be it Finland, Malaysia, Brazil or Uganda.

Support for the Industry

Gaining certification for your operations, developing procurement policies or even just finding certified products could seem a daunting task. FSC UK, based in Wales, provides information, advice and support to the UK timber sector to all stages in the chain of custody from forest owners and importers to end users. It provides a range of services ranging from offering free basic advice on how the FSC system works and the availability of certified products, through to developing bespoke training and consultancy packages for your organisation or supply/distribution chain.

Future proof your organisation

As mentioned above, the FSC system comfortably passed the CPET assessment at the first stage. It is also widely endorsed by most opinion formers and industry watchdogs. In addition to the highest environmental standards the FSC Principles and Criteria include comprehensive social criteria that are not considered under the CPET assessment, yet, but are increasingly seen as a key component in sustainable procurement. FSC is used as the yardstick for timber certification by increasing numbers of organisations, such as HSBC, who use ˜FSC or equivalent" as their own standard for the timber sector. With FSC you can easily meet all the timber requirements, procurement guidelines, CSR criteria and purchasing policies around today, not just those of CPET. Furthermore, as FSC leads the field in certification, you will continue to meet them even as all these many and varied requirements and guidelines improve, expand and become more exacting. With FSC you will be able to demonstrate your commitment to the highest standards of forest management and chain of custody to all your customers and stakeholders both now and in the future.


FSC UK Advisory Service

  • Tel: 01686 413 916
  • Fax: 01686 412 176
  • Email:
  • Web: www.fsc-uk.org
  • FSC UK Working Group, Room 8 11-13 Great Oak Street, Llanidloes, Powys, SY18 6BU